Mea culpa

Sandmuppet (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

The further I move away from academia career-wise, the more I realise how little I contributed to general commentary about issues relevant to my research interests.

I never had an op-ed published.

Actually, I never even tried to write one.

I only attended a handful of community engagement events. I actively avoided having to be the one quoted voice about particular Asian Australian issues.

My hang-up was that it’s all very complex and I didn’t want to have what I said ‘dumbed down’ to a sound-bite (I know, I know, just bear with me here…). This feeling of being misrepresented in the media was widespread around the areas I moved in academia, and it led to a general suspicion about talking to journalists or pursuing other outlets for research findings.

Now, as one half of Research Whisperer team and working as a research developer, I can see what a negligent and dense attitude that was. Given the sociocultural critique of existing values and hierarchies in Australian society that made up my academic career, what was the point of the research I was doing if it wasn’t communicated to a broader audience in an accessible way?

This complete change of attitude is fed very much by increased confidence in what I’m doing, and the advent of things such as blogging and Twitter (two very effective ways to represent yourself and your work with little mediation, or to ‘set the story straight’ if you needed to). The growing numbers of online news sources, too, is excellent for the flow of more and different kinds of stories and topic concentrations.

Now, when I’m not a full-time academic anymore, I’m thinking about writing for online publications and engaging more broadly all the time.

I love the idea of The Conversation and how it presents university research and commentary in accessible, non-jargonistic language. There are also heaps of web magazines and social issue blogs to which I think I could make a contribution. I’m already involved as a founding advisory editor for Peril: An Asian Australian magazine of arts + culture, and the team has decided to start a rolling series of posts from the editorial group as part of the publication’s development. I published something with Right Now back in late March this year – Validation and Solidarity –  and I’d like to do more of this kind of writing, with less of a focus on me and my experiences (cos it’s not all about me…).

As I am no longer a full-time academic, though, I start wondering whether having my ‘voice’ out there is worth less because of its lack of professional gravitas. Similarly, I wonder how long I can continue as a convenor or ‘leader’ in the AASRN when I am no longer actively researching in the field (this gives you an idea of the things I’ve published and researched).

For the first time, I actually said to someone last week that I was no longer an active researcher. It felt weird, but it was true. I was an active (academic) researcher for almost twenty years (including my MA and PhD). This doesn’t mean I don’t do research now, but I don’t do it with a view to publishing in academic outlets or building towards a major academic research project.

With a 9-5 day-job that is non-academic, I can’t commit time to that kind of work anymore. The offers and opportunities are still being made – some more attractive than others – but I’ve turned them all down. I still write a lot, but it’s channelled into different modes: professional and personal blogposts, Twitter, fiction, reviews, and more process-driven work stuff. Having the burden of representation eased by stepping away from academia has meant that I feel much more willing and able to get word out there. Let’s see how it goes.

3 thoughts on “Mea culpa

  1. I think what u did as an academic was v worthwhile. There needed to be something other than on not speaking Chinese or American points of references. Sure I effed up my thesis as my supervisor assumed o knew WTF I was doing, but back then the markers didn’t even know that some key theorists chose to keep their surname in front of their given name to make a point. Also you have a life. You can’t have a life, live in the ivory tower and do everything else. As for mea culpa, I think George pell needs some of that for talking shit on national tv. Gosh that was a weirdarse episode of q and a. Was too afraid to watch another episode after that 😉 anyway you could have easily dug dirt, made loads of $$ that way. That would have been ok too. Xx

  2. Noojies

    I actually think you are being too hard on yourself. In the world of academia, there is an unsaid notion that unless you are at the top of your field, you don’t really know enough. You are seen to be learning, and need to know more before you can be an ‘expert’. Therefore, commenting in the media can actually be daunting, and most would stay away from it. This isn’t negligent at all. It is the nature of the beast.

    You are in the tricky situation of now no longer being an official academic, but still working in the sector. This means that you are no longer actively researching, which probably makes you feel like what you have to say is even less legitimate now. But I disagree. I think you have a freedom that many academics do not (probably because they still feel like they need to know more). You are not shackled by the world of academia, yet you have over 20 years of expertise and experience that you can draw from.

    Commenting in the media is not about being right, it is about engaging in a discussion of ideas, which is what academic work should be about too. You have to opportunity to draw on this wealth of knowledge, and start engaging people into intelligent debate about your areas of research interest and expertise. I’m glad to hear that you are thinking of diving in!

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